JENNY SIMP­SON

THERE’S NO DOUBT­ING NOW THAT MULTI GLOBAL MEDAL­LIST JENNY SIMP­SON BE­LONGS AT THE TOP TA­BLE WHEN IT COMES TO THE 1500m, WRITES STU­ART WEIR

Athletics Weekly - - News -

Stu­art Weir catches up with the mul­ti­ple global 1500m medal­list

JENNY SIMP­SON’S ad­mis­sion is very hon­est. “You have to be a very in­tel­li­gent racer when you run the 1500m. I did not know if I had what it took.”

Thank­fully for the Amer­i­can, her coach Heather Bur­roughs per­suaded her that she did – and a world gold over the dis­tance in 2011, not to men­tion sil­ver medals in 2013 and Lon­don this sum­mer, as well as the small mat­ter of an Olympic bronze in Rio, un­der­line rather spec­tac­u­larly just how ac­cu­rate that judge­ment was.

Simp­son’s ca­reer has been long and il­lus­tri­ous and is one in which she has shown her­self to be com­pet­i­tive on the world stage from 800m to 5000m and on the track, road and cross coun­try. She ran in the 3000m steeplechase in Bei­jing 2008, fin­ish­ing ninth but set­ting an Amer­i­can record. In 2009 she was fifth in the event in the Berlin World Cham­pi­onships, tak­ing al­most 10 sec­onds off her own US record (at the time of writ­ing, there is talk of this be­ing up­graded to bronze). It proved to be a fate­ful year.

Simp­son was pri­mar­ily a steeplechaser but it was her run of 3:59.90 in the 1500m at the 2009 Pre­fontaine Clas­sic, mak­ing her at that time the third-fastest fe­male 1500m run­ner in US track and field his­tory, which brought her to a cross­roads. 3000m or 1500m?

“It was a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion but it

PIC­TURES: MARK SHEAR­MAN was some­thing about which my coach was very con­fi­dent. She had to do a bit of talk­ing me into it,” Simp­son says. “I knew I had the phys­i­cal abil­ity to ex­cel at the event be­cause I had run 3:59 be­fore when I wasn’t even spe­cial­is­ing in it. But you have to be a very in­tel­li­gent racer when you run the 1500m. I did not know if I had what it took.

“But coach watched me in prac­tice and she watched me work out with my team­mates and she felt very con­fi­dent that I did have what it took. So I credit her for see­ing some­thing in me that I did not im­me­di­ately see in my­self.”

World gold in Daegu changed ev­ery­thing. “Things in my ca­reer were never the same again – in a pos­i­tive way,” she says.

The 2012 Olympics were a dis­ap­point­ment when she failed to make the fi­nal, fin­ish­ing 11th in the semi-fi­nal in 4:06.89. Typ­i­cally, how­ever, Simp­son found a pos­i­tive to take from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Win­ning the World Cham­pi­onships in 2011 was a bit un­ex­pected be­cause it was the first time I’d ever com­peted in­ter­na­tion­ally in the 1500m,” says the 31-year-old. “And I was young – my first sum­mer as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete – and hav­ing had that suc­cess it can be re­ally hard to con­tinue and out-do it the next year.

“It was hard get­ting ready for the Olympics and pre­par­ing for all the chal­lenges in­volved in suc­ceed­ing in 2012 with the pres­sure of be­ing reign­ing world cham­pion. It was a big dis­ap­point­ment but also a big grow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, how to ex­pect so much out of my­self and how to deal with the re­al­ity of not de­liv­er­ing.”

Simp­son clearly did learn and duly de­liv­ered in Moscow at the 2013 World Cham­pi­onships with a sil­ver medal.

“It was re­ally fun to re­turn in 2013 and show the world that the suc­cess in 2011 was not a fluke and that I was go­ing to be a real con­tender for the rest of my ca­reer,” she says.

While her abil­ity to go un­der four min­utes in 2009 was a huge mo­ment in Simp­son’s ca­reer, it was to be an­other five years be­fore she dipped un­der that stan­dard again, do­ing it three times in 2014, in­clud­ing 3:57.22 in Paris (mak­ing her the third-fastest Amer­i­can of all time). 2014 was ar­guably the strong­est year of Simp­son’s ca­reer. She won two Di­a­mond League races, as well as tak­ing two sec­ond places, a third and a fourth to win the Di­a­mond League series.

Fin­ish­ing 11th in the 2015 World Cham­pi­onships fi­nal was not in the script but, again, Simp­son was to bounce back from a set­back in style.

If you watch the Rio Olympics women’s 1500m fi­nal on YouTube, with half a lap to go you hear the com­men­ta­tor say “the medals are al­ready de­cided” and Simp­son is not even in shot. How­ever, tim­ing her fin­ish like the ex­pe­ri­enced tac­ti­cian she is, she surges through to take the bronze.

“When you win an Olympic medal, that is in­cred­i­ble but the re­al­ity of how you remember that en­tire year con­tin­ues to form the fur­ther you get away from it,” she says. “The more I re­flect on the year as a whole, it was a re­ally chal­leng­ing year and I will al­ways remember the joy and ex­cite­ment of get­ting the medal.

“But that victory was more hard fought than any other achieve­ment of my en­tire ca­reer – in terms of hav­ing set­backs (through ill­ness and in­jury), hav­ing to be­lieve in my­self and hav­ing to com­mit to a plan that I wasn’t sure was go­ing to suc­ceed as the clock was tick­ing and I was not mak­ing as much progress as I thought.”

Simp­son’s next global fi­nal would bring an­other mem­o­rable fin­ish. The women’s 1500m was ar­guably the race of Lon­don 2017. The records will show that the top four were sep­a­rated by only 0.38 of a sec­ond but the stats alone per­haps don’t do the man­ner of the fi­nale jus­tice.

Simp­son spot­ted a gap on the in­side and charged through it to gain sil­ver in 4:02.76 be­hind Faith Kipye­gon.

“On that fi­nal stretch, I just thought I could win,” she re­called in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the race which saw Caster Se­menya fin­ish third and Laura Muir ag­o­nis­ingly fall short of a podium place.

“No one’s go­ing to be­lieve I’m do­ing this again,” she said. “It felt so amaz­ing and it was kind of a sur­pris­ingly lu­cid fi­nal 300m for me. I tried to stay calm and then re­lease the beast the last 80 me­tres or so.”

The ic­ing on the cake for 2017 would a fifth suc­ces­sive win in the Fifth Av­enue Mile in New York on September 10. Few would bet against it hap­pen­ing.

“WHEN YOU WIN AN OLYMPIC MEDAL, THAT IS IN­CRED­I­BLE BUT THE RE­AL­ITY OF HOW YOU REMEMBER THAT EN­TIRE YEAR CON­TIN­UES TO FORM THE FUR­THER YOU GET AWAY FROM IT” JENNY SIMP­SON

Podium reg­u­lar: after win­ning world 1500m gold in 2011, Jenny Simp­son took sil­ver in 2013 (right) and 2017

Mid­dle-dis­tance tal­ent: Jenny Simp­son’s PBs in­clude a 3:57 1500m, 8:29 3000m, 14:56 5000m and 9:12 steeplechase

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